Jennifer Nettles hit the red carpet at the 2019 CMA Awards with a fierce message for country radio: Play songs by women, thank you very much.
One half of the country duo Sugarland, Nettles donned a white pantsuit adorned with the Venus gender symbol in black writing, but it was the hot pink cape attached to the look that is set to make headlines around the 53rd annual CMA Awards: On it, the words, "Play our f*@#!n records. Please & thank you," were written in the same black ink, and the phrase, "equal pay," was written on her back.
The message on the "Stuck Like Glue" hitmaker's ensemble represented a rare callout of country radio by a high-profile star on the genre's biggest night, alluding to the format's historic and often written about reluctance to play music by women.
According to a recent report from 2017, just 10.4 percent of music played on country radio is made by women, despite the surplus of female stars that are some of the biggest names in the entire genre, like Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini and Kacey Musgraves, whose third album, "Golden Hour," won Album of the Year at this year's Grammys.
In fact, the lack of women on country airwaves has actually been decreasing in recent years, and Nettles' political fashion statement comes four years after the infamous "Tomato-gate" rocked Nashville: Back in 2015, prominent radio consultant Keith Hill compared playing music made by female artists to putting tomatoes in a salad, saying, "If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out. I play great female records ... they're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."
Making the statement at the CMA Awards, which is the most important awards show in country music, also served as a reminder of the ceremony's known history of recognizing male musicians disproportionately more than female artists: In the past 20 years, the show's biggest award, Entertainer of the Year, has only gone to women on four occasions: Shania Twain in 1999, Dixie Chicks in 2000 and Taylor Swift in 2009 and 2011. Since 2015, only three of the category's 25 nomination slots have gone to women: Two for Miranda Lambert and one for Carrie Underwood, who is the only woman nominated this year.